JEFF PRESTRIDGE: Memorial firm must play ball over missing tributes

Football fans are devoted individuals. Die-hards spend four-figure sums every season following their team. Not just on tickets and travel, but everything from programmes to replica shirts.

The bond between team and fan is unbreakable, as I can testify. I’ve followed mine – West Bromwich Albion – through thick and thin, experiencing the lows of old Division Three (now, League Two) and the highs of the Premier League.

Even though TV means most games are now played on a Monday or Friday – rather than a Saturday (the only day of the week I can go) – I cling on to my West Brom season ticket. Why? Loyalty? Madness? A mix of both.

Sometimes, this bond is abused – by football owners (in the case of WBA), individuals and suppliers. It has happened at Millwall where fans, who bought memorial plaques or stones to remember departed loved ones when they visit the Den, have been left bitterly disappointed by a supplier.

Although the memorials were purchased via the Millwall club website, the payments were made to Your Tribute, a company specialising in putting together memorial walls and parks for football clubs. Millwall took a cut of every sale.

Fury: The Den, home to Millwall fans who are angry that memorials for loved-ones – like those at Leeds’ Elland Road, above left – were unfulfilled

Sales commenced during the pandemic – and according to the club, 95 orders have not been fulfilled. Assurances from Your Tribute that they will be honoured have been followed with a wall of silence. Legal threats from Millwall have been ignored. 

Many customers, understandably, are livid. Your Tribute, whose website boasts of memorials built for football clubs Arsenal, Leeds and Liverpool, looks like a troubled company. A posse of directors has resigned and the business has failed to comply with Companies House rules. Accounts are due before the end of the month, but I would bet on them being filed late (if not at all).

There is also a charge on the company’s assets by Bradford-based lender Business & Enterprise Finance.

Last week, I tried to contact the company by email and phone. No joy. The phone went straight to voicemail – and when it asked me to send an email, it immediately said the inbox was full.

Officials at Millwall are distraught because of the bad blood the issue has created among fans. 

Matters aren’t helped by the fact that the club has no record of those who purchased memorial items. All details are held by Your Tribute. 

Hopefully, some people will be able to claim refunds from their credit card provider under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act. Those who paid by debit card do not enjoy such protection, although I get an inkling that the football club (hugely community-focused) will soon step in and ensure nobody is left out of pocket.

If you are waiting for an order from Your Tribute to be fulfilled, do let me know.

Metro apology 

Apologies to Metro Bank, the challenger bank renowned for its dog-friendliness and free-to-use ‘magic money machines’ that convert spare change into deposits.

Late last year, in the wake of a £10 million fine from the regulator, I surmised that Metro’s days of branch openings were over.

I made the assertion on the back of its trimming of three branches earlier in 2022 – and its rather poor financial health (loss rather than profit-making).

How wrong I was. This month, despite recording more losses (£70.7million for 2022), the bank said it would open 11 new stores over the next two years – all in the North of England where it remains under-represented. It also said it would keep open all existing branches.

Although the openings will only push the number of branches up to 87, it’s heartening to see a bank committing to our high streets.

Between them, rivals such as Barclays, Lloyds and NatWest have announced 119 branch closures this year – and that’s before spring has even commenced (Barclays revealed 15 on Friday).

Sorry Metro.

I hope Helen has the right type of Isa!

Helen Archer – a key character in BBC Radio 4’s The Archers – is thinking of cashing in her Isa to fund an overseas trip for her and physio boyfriend Lee Bryce.

Nothing wrong with that – tax-friendly Isas are set up to be accessed at some stage in our lives. 

Cashing in: Helen Archer, played by Louiza Patikas

Cashing in: Helen Archer, played by Louiza Patikas

And it does seem that Helen and Lee – hundred times a better man than predecessor Rob Titchener – are madly in love. So it’s rather sweet Helen – played by Louiza Patikas – wants to treat Lee to a trip to see his kids.

But I hope Helen has her Isa set up properly. If it is a ‘flexible’ Isa, she will be able to make the withdrawal – and then make it good – without compromising her annual allowance of £20,000.

The only proviso is that the repayment must be made in the same tax year.

On the other hand, if Helen’s Isa isn’t flexible – they only came on the scene in 2016 – she won’t be able to replace the withdrawn funds unless she eats into her £20,000 allowance.

One final point on Isas. The clock for using this tax year’s Isa allowance is counting down fast. Invest before April 5, or lose it.

Rest in peace, Jennifer Aldridge – and yes, I am an Archers addict.

Share split is welcome for investors

Making investing simple should be an imperative for companies involved in helping us build personal wealth – be it fund managers or investment platforms.

So, hats off to investment trust Murray International for announcing a plan to enable more investors of modest means the opportunity to buy its shares.

Subject to the approval of existing shareholders next month, the trust’s shares will be sub-divided, resulting in investors holding five for every one they currently have. It means that instead of owning one share priced at £13.14, shareholders will hold five worth £2.63 each.

The move won’t make investors any poorer or richer, but it will ensure the trust becomes more investor-friendly and appeal to new investors. Why? Well, the share split will make it easier for investors to buy into the trust, especially if they can only afford to make small monthly purchases. Reinvesting the trust’s quarterly dividends will also become less of a problem because of the lower cost of shares.

For the record, Murray International, part of the Abrdn investment stable, is a good example of how an investment trust should be run. Main manager Bruce Stout has been around the block a few times, so knows how to get the best from a diversified portfolio of global stocks (and a few bonds) in all kinds of market conditions.

He’s big into Mexican airport operator Grupo Aeroportuario that is benefiting from a boom in tourism. ‘The trust has held the shares for 22 years,’ Stout told me last week. ‘I keep trimming the holding to keep it below five per cent, but the dividends it throws off are compelling.’

He also likes businesses such as Brazilian mining giant Vale and German industrial giant Siemens that are benefiting from respective demand for lithium and automation. Over the past year, shareholders have enjoyed total returns of 19 per cent (I’d take that any day).

The focus on dividends is also a bonus. For the 2022 financial year, it will pay total income of 56pence a share – a 1.8 per cent annual increase and the 18th year the trust has pushed up its divi payments. Other popular investment trusts with share prices around the £10 mark should follow suit – the likes of Alliance, Brunner and Monks. Investors first.